It’s the beginning of July and we are now on the steps of Hell’s Front Porch . . . in other words, it’s getting pretty hot and dry out there. Should you be worried about your foundation?
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we have seen vast ranges from monsoon-level rain to major drought through 35+ years of working in Texas’ expansive clay soils. We know about the impact that extremes and lack of rainfall have on our soil and your home’s foundation.
This article will review drought definitions and categories and talk about how our current conditions compare to notable historic weather extremes. We will also discuss the relationship between your foundation and soil and explore some preventative measures to consider during times of Texas drought (also known as *summer*).
Definitions and Categories of Drought
Apparently, there are all different types of drought – who knew? There’s agricultural drought that hones in on the effects of crop production. There’s hydrological drought that has to do with surface (rivers, lakes, streams) and subsurface water systems (groundwater and aquifers).
There’s even socioeconomic drought, but that’s when I got sleepy and called it quits on my research . . .
The main type of drought that most regular folks tend to focus on is meteorological drought, which considers both the rainfall shortage and the length of the dry period. This meteorological drought comes with 5 intensities of dryness ranging from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought” levels.
Is it just me or does the *really bad* drought sound like he would get better grades in school?
How Does Our Current Drought Condition Compare?
If you type “Texas Drought Map” into whatever search engine you like, you will find any number of reliable .gov and .edu sources of drought data, information, and pretty maps. I like drought.gov because I just find it simply delightful that this URL even exists.
But really, I like the drought.gov website because it has drought map tabs showing current, last week, and last month’s conditions for any state you want to look up. Check out the Texas Drought Map right now if you want.
So how do current conditions compare to notable historic climate events? Let’s see, there was the Summer of 2021, which was bizarrely wet for a Texas summer. This particularly rainy summer even caused some unique flooring problems in crawl space homes in our area due to the unusual moisture levels combined with extreme heat.
Check out the drought map from June 2021.
Then from 2010 to 2012, Texas experienced some of the most *exceptional drought* on record with much of the state engulfed in the deepest drought levels. Here’s a map from October 2011 with a whole lot of dark red on it and an interesting accompanying article about the 2011 drought too.
There was also a big drought in Texas in the 1950s that might have been the worst, but I can’t find any maps from that time. Also, I didn’t look for any . . .
The takeaway here is that, yes it’s hot, yes it’s dry, and you hear people throwing around the word drought all over the place. But compared to these other extremes, we’re just about normal at the moment. Dryness is a reality of living in our Great State.
Opinion Alert: For Texas, I don’t even know why they call anything “abnormally dry” or even “severely dry.” It seems that every year we are hitting into the D1 to D3 drought levels regularly, so it *don’t seem too abnormal* to me . . .
How Drought Affects the Foundation of a House
Now, just because dryness and drought are a way of life in Texas, doesn’t mean there is no impact on your home’s foundation – there certainly can be at times. Any summer drought presents an opportunity for foundation settlement. Drought makes settlement more likely, but it’s not a guarantee for annual disaster either so don’t panic.
Any time the expansive clay soil in our area dries out, it shrinks. Prolonged soil shrinkage due to drought can cause distress to your foundation. Sometimes this extended stress will make your foundation sink. Now that’s a lot of cans, sometimes-es, and mights – you just never really know if one year a drought is going to be too much for your home.
Even though we can somewhat predict that droughts will happen just about every year at some point, we can’t predict when foundation settlement will happen to your home. What we can do instead is encourage you to be proactive through drought monitoring and home maintenance.
Signs to Look for Around Your Foundation During Drought
You now know how to check for general drought conditions using internet info, but how do you watch for drought conditions right around your home? Good question.
In your home’s immediate area, there are some clear signs of drought that you can pick up with your own eyeballs:
- Cracks in the ground around your home or yard, and
- Separation and pulling away of sod or mulch around your foundation.
These two signs signify that the dirt is getting quite dry right around your home and it’s probably past time to step up the moisture levels in the area.
Also, you can regularly monitor for early signs of foundation settlement or distress inside and on the exterior of your home, like diagonal cracks in drywall or stair-step cracks in the brick. But let’s hope it hasn’t gotten to that point yet and just deal with the dry dirt.
Foundation Maintenance and Prevention During Drought
We were just talking about monitoring in the last section, so here are some maintenance do’s and don’ts to maintain your foundation’s health as much as possible in an attempt to head off foundation problems.
- Do water your lawn and landscaping to keep them alive,
- Don’t “water your foundation,”
- Do encourage moisture retention with mulching,
- Don’t expect miracles, and
- Do wait until a drought is over to decide if foundation repairs are necessary.
Also, *don’t* worry, we’re about to explain these in a bit more detail.
1. DO Water Your Lawn and Landscaping to Keep Them Alive
When there’s a drought, or even when it’s just a regular ol’ summer, some people tend to just *give up* on their lawn. But keeping your grass and landscaping shrubs and such alive with water is a great way to maintain moisture around your foundation too.
If you aim for *keeping stuff alive and healthy-looking* it will have the same positive health impacts for your soil and your foundation. Keeping things in a normal range is what’s best for your foundation, anything extreme one way or the other is not optimal for preventing foundation movement of any kind.
2. DON’T “Water Your Foundation”
The idea of “watering your foundation” is one of the big myths and misconceptions about foundation maintenance and problems. This creates an unnatural extreme which is just as bad as things being really dry, only this time you’re making it really wet.
I just said, “anything extreme one way or the other is not optimal for preventing foundation movement.” Well, this is *the other* that I am talking about.
Keeping your grass alive is enough water for your foundation. Hosing on a whole bunch of extra water for prolonged periods right near your foundation can cause undue expansion and heaving of the soil. They call them *expansive* clay soils for a reason.
Plus, if there is a true drought, you might also not be able to use that much municipal water anyway. Just aim for keeping things on an even keel with the moisture levels around your home and don’t go overboard because it might cause another problem.
3. DO Encourage Moisture Retention with Mulching
Turns out mulch is not just *for pretties* like I always thought when I was younger. Mulch is like a damp blanket for your landscaping areas, especially great around the edges of your home.
When you are trying to keep the moisture levels up around the perimeter of your house, adding mulch to bare areas and increasing your mulch in flowerbeds is very helpful. Mulch is kind of like insulation for dryness. Mulch also adds a little warmth, which encourages more moisture too.
Then when you water your flowerbeds and landscaped areas, the moisture has more staying power and works overtime for you with mulch. It’s like your watering efforts are amplified and made even more efficient and effective. These are all big wins when it comes to combating dryness around your foundation and drought in general.
4. DON’T Expect Miracles
Prevention activities are not guarantees, they are just efforts in the right direction. Know that if a drought is severe enough, there really might be nothing you can do to prevent your foundation from sinking.
Not be a wet blanket or anything (like that mulch I was just talking about), but it’s just more realistic to understand that sometimes all the preventions in the world won’t work. I’ll *expand* on this further in the next section. P.S. I think I just made a soil joke . . .
5. DO Wait Until a Drought is Over to Consider Foundation Repairs
If drought seems like it is affecting your foundation, don’t feel the need to act too quickly. If this is the very first time you are having any foundation concerns, it could just be a one-time situation. Seasonal foundation settlement is a thing and your foundation can rebound and improve as the moisture levels and rainfall improve.
Wait until the extreme weather is over to decide if the time is right for foundation repairs. We’re not trying to scare you into doing work you don’t need by talking about drought. It’s the opposite. We’ll tell you when the time is right for repairs and we don’t need to use the threat of a summer drought to drum up business.
Can You Prevent Foundation Settlement from Drought?
I’ve already said this once, but it’s so good I want to say it again: Even though we can somewhat predict that droughts will happen just about every year at some point, we can’t predict when foundation settlement will happen to your home.
What we do instead is encourage you to be proactive through drought monitoring and home maintenance, but sometimes even that is not enough. That’s why you shouldn’t expect prevention miracles here.
Not only can you not predict when settlement will occur, but you also can’t *prevent* it if it’s gonna happen. You see, you are just one person with a hose and a bag of mulch trying to control the immediate area around your home.
But if a drought happens like the one in 2011, your little hose and measly mulch will not have much effect on the entire soil system of your neighborhood, your city, or your county.
As humans, we tend to forget that everything is connected in our ecosystem.
When it’s dry, that dryness becomes so extensive in extreme drought conditions that it affects the whole soil system. Even if the soil immediately around your house has adequate moisture, that soil is connected to and resting on a whole bunch of other soil that you have *zero* ability to impact or control.
While you might be able to prevent some problems with prevention techniques, an extreme drought could affect your foundation anyway.
We Repair Foundations Even During Times of Drought
We repair foundations all year round, though we do tend to get a few more calls in the drier months. For our chosen repair method using drilled bell-bottom piers, we can install them optimally any time of the year. The effectiveness of drilled piers is not dependent upon the moisture content of the soil like pressed pilings are, but that’s a topic for another article . . .
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we have been helping homeowners with foundation problems since 1985. We helped quite a few more homeowners through the drought years of 2010-2012 and are prepared to do it again when the time comes. Since the last major drought happened not too long ago, we’re thinking it will be a while before the next *big* one.
Until then, this idea about the moisture content of soil and its effect on pressed pilings sounds like an interesting topic doesn’t it? Check out, “What Are Pressed Pilings? Foundation Repair Pros and Cons.”